As a group, lawyers aren’t well-regarded (according to The Top Tens,lawyers rank just behind the top spot holders, politicians as the most hated).
Among attorneys, personal injury lawyers probably rank near the bottom.
Perhaps it’s the personal injury lawyers on TV boasting about why you should hire them. Or the billboards proclaiming the millions of dollars in money they’ve recovered for their clients.
The message that “we listen” doesn’t always translate as easily.
What's with the lousy reputation?
In thinking about why we enjoy such a lousy reputation, I thought about what I’d want if I were in need of a lawyer. And because I’m nostalgic by nature, I turned to Atticus Finch, the highly respected fictional lawyer of To Kill a Mockingbird fame for inspiration.
Atticus’ wise counsel to school-aged daughter, Scout, that “you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it” pretty much sums up what I believe many lawyers should do a lot [more] of.
For me, it’s about meeting my clients where they are. I account for the fact they’re unexpectedly in an extremely difficult situation. Naturally, they almost always want and need to be heard and get their questions answered.
And so I listen … and then listen some more (as my partner and I say in one of our TV ads). This helps us get to know our clients and understand them in the kind of respectful, empathetic way that all people, and clients no less, deserve.
Clients, like people, come in all shapes and sizes. Some are direct and to the point. Others take more time to be heard and understood.
People want someone to listen
Sometimes, their stories go beyond the immediate circumstances of the injury they’ve just suffered. Other times, it’s seemingly just one thing that brings them to me. Still other times, they experience frustration and overwhelm after trying to deal with the situation on their own. Perhaps they’ve only run into roadblocks and other stumbling blocks.
Some ask inciteful questions; others aren’t sure where to begin or what to ask.
Regardless, spending time actively listening helps me understand my clients as people generally. It also allows me to grasp their immediate worries and long-term concerns.
I listen, ultimately to help right my client’s situation in the form of monetary recovery for the injuries they’ve suffered as a result of someone else’s carelessness.
Practically, that involves stepping in and taking over the details, big and small, so that my clients can focus on recovery (i.e., something only they can do).
But here at Luhrsen Goldberg, it’s also about building a trusted relationship with our clients. So, along with empathy and respect, an important corollary is to empower my clients with information so they can make informed decisions and better understand what’s going on in and with their cases.
The process takes time
Listening and sharing information takes time of course.Attorney Julie S. Luhrsen
My initial meetings with my clients (not an investigator or staff member) can often run an hour or more.
The questions can run the gamut, but there are, as they say, no stupid questions.
Clients frequently have questions about how they can afford to hire me.
I spend time helping my clients understand how the contingency attorney fee arrangement works. This fee governs my handling of their personal injury case. (I receive a portion of a client’s recovery – only if I get my client a settlement and only at the end of their case.)
Education is key for client understanding
Likewise, I want my clients to understand how the substantive aspects of their case work. This is in addition to the nuts and bolts. In a car accident injury case, for example, I find that while clients know there’s car insurance, they generally have no reason to know or understand how the different parts of car insurance work.
Giving them insights about how insurance works and what it does (or does not do) makes an important difference.
And the need and desire to listen doesn’t end. Throughout the life of their cases, regular communication allows me to field questions. I can also provide guidance on the procedures and substantive things. For example, I can inform clients of how decisions related to their recovery can affect their legal case.
It’s important to treat clients as people
Ultimately, my job is to listen to my clients. It’s critical to take care of them and get the best resolution possible given the unique facts of their case.
While there are some who see contingency fee legal work as being a lot about efficiency — delegating as much work as possible to staff, turning cases quickly, etc. — I’ve found that by following the Golden Rule and investing time with my clients so as to build a relationship of trust and understanding, my clients are happy with the bottom-line result to them AND with me as their attorney.
More background on Atticus Finch
Here is some information for those who may not be as devoted a fan of Atticus Finch as I am.
Those wise words offered to his frustrated daughter were words he too lived by. Indeed, his defense of the unpopular cause of Tom Robinson, a poor black field hand in the rural south, accused of raping a white woman, garnered him a standing ovation by the town’s black community, notwithstanding that Tom Robinson was convicted. Empathy matters and lawyers like Atticus provide excellent examples of the exceptions to the overall reputation lawyers enjoy — that is, who practice with high regard for ethics, the work they provide and common decency.